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Tuesday, 30 August 1994
Page: 565


Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Foreign Affairs) (3.14 p.m.) —Senator Hill is desperately trying to flog some life into what is a very dead horse indeed. The truth of the matter is this: Mr Jones was not at any stage asked to resign his seat. The question was raised with him, as honourable senators might have expected, in the context of interest in these matters arising from the redistribution in Victoria as to what his intentions were so far as the next parliament was concerned. Mr Jones was asked whether it was his intention, when his tenure expired in the natural course of events at the next parliament, not to go on for another term, given that he would be 62 or 63, I think, at that stage, or whether he was determined to run again and to seek preselection accordingly. The question was a perfectly reasonable one asked by me in the context of trying to see what sorts of options might be available to resolve some potentially quite complex preselection issues in Victoria.

  Obviously, in the context of that conversation the question arose as to what Mr Jones would do with the rest of his public life or his professional life in the event that he did choose to stand down and not seek preselection for the next term of parliament.  In that context, some discussion took place about, as I said in question time today, the possibility of utilising Mr Jones's talents—not necessarily through a government-paid or public sector job at all—in a way that would utilise his obvious capacities for thinking, for talking, for articulating about the nature of Australian society. We discussed, for example, the report that had just come down from Mrs Kirner's committee about the proposal for a COAG, a Council of Australian Governments, appointed position running the centenary celebrations and whether that was something that Mr Jones might, if he were to step down from politics, be interested in.

  There was a discussion of that kind; it was purely general. I certainly did not, as the Kitney article suggested, seek the permission of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) to offer Mr Jones a diplomatic appointment. I certainly did not make such an offer to Mr Jones of a diplomatic appointment. Senator Hill has asked about the context in which I said there was a brief and fleeting conversation; I will tell him what the conversation amounted to.

  The conversation was in the context of talking about these various other possibilities for utilising Mr Jones's talents. The question obviously arose about his continued interest in UNESCO and related bodies of that kind. I think it was me, or it might have been him—I think it was probably me—who said, `Well, of course there's a long tradition of people on both sides of politics moving on to diplomatic posts after this. But it would not be sensible to even begin to talk about that until after the government is re-elected because, obviously, it would not be possible for this government to make any commitments about what any subsequent government could enter into.'

  Mr Jones responded, as I recall, to that particular proposition by saying, `Look, I'm basically not in the slightest bit interested in that kind of job anyway. I see my future as working basically out of Australia and, really, I'm not interested in doing anything other than staying in parliament for another term.' That was effectively the end of that conversation—end of argument. That is the beginning and end of it. It was a private conversation addressing that range of issues.

  At a later stage—some days later—a further point was put to Mr Jones, which point has become the subject of some public controversy, about a different option for him that, since he was determined to stay in parliament, it may be that he would be interested in helping the party in another way by taking a different seat for what seemed likely to be his last term in the parliament. It was in that context that further conversations took place which have been the subject of a good deal of public speculation, a good deal of huffing and puffing.

  But there is not even the beginnings of a comparability between this situation and that which arose in the New South Wales parliament. Mr Metherell was specifically offered the situation, `If you resign in the middle of a parliamentary term, your job right now, you will find yourself occupying a particular Public Service job'—one that is normally filled through a process of advertisement and choice of someone on merit in a competitive environment. That context was not even one, as I recall, of offering a traditional job that is the subject of executive discretion.

  I conclude by saying that there is a long and perfectly honourable history in this country of people who have had a distinguished career in parliament and in public service through the parliament moving on after the natural effluxion of their time in such a parliament to take various kinds of appointments. It has occurred over and over again on both sides of politics. It has occurred through us in the context of a willingness to put people into these positions from the other side of politics, if they have done a good job during their career. It is a practice that I fully believe should continue. (Time expired)